Difficult IssuesTwo other EP posts today have me thinking about this issue. One is from a lady in Wilmington, Delaware about the killings in the New Castle County Courthouse yesterday. She raises the interesting question of how you identify a "responsible gun owner" and how do you rest assured that the "responsible gun owner" will not become irresponsible and kill an innocent victim. The other post is from someone who claims to have used a gun to prevent what he perceived was likely to become a tragedy.
The number of people who truly need a gun, as distinguished from those who want guns, is very small. While there is always annecdotal evidence of the "citizen with a gun" who prevents some greater harm, I have no doubt that, on a net basis across the entire nation, many more innocent people are killed each year than "bad guys." In short, there would seem to be a very good case for limiting lawful access to firearms to legitimate (as opposed to self-appointed) law enforcement personnel and the military.
However, our nation's experience with declaring items as contraband has not been good. The ill-conceived "War on Drugs" illustrates the point. One has to wonder whether as much marijuana and cocaine would be imported into this country if doing so was not so profitable due to the goverment's efforts to create scarcity. While this is a difficult proposition to verify empirically, the risk that measures making lawful firearms scarce would substantially expand the blackmarket in guns is not a risk to be taken lightly.
There are those who contend that the government has no authority to impose any regulation on gun ownership. However, this position is very difficult to reconcile with the language of the Second Amendment, which speaks of the citizens' right to bear arms as part of a "well regulated militia." While I doubt that we will ever completely rid ourselves of irrational gun violence, I think that there is regulation which might cause market forces to minimize it.
Guns are qualitatively different from most other items. The sole purpose of a gun is to cause injury or death. There is nothing else that a gun can do. An unfired gun has a deterrent effect, when it does, only because it has the capability to injure or kill. Some of that injury and death may be beneficial as in the case of the hunter who culls deer from an over-populated area. However, the injuries and deaths caused by detrimental uses of guns create real costs which are borne by the families of the victims and/or by all of us as taxpayers. This is a cost created by the business of manufacturing and selling guns. It strikes me that some mechanism which imposed those costs on the gun manufacurers would have the effect of driving up the initial acquisition cost of guns which, in turn, would cause the market to allocate them less frequently and more selectively.